Home » Sept 2019 – The West Coast

Sept 2019 – The West Coast

  • Mixed Emotions (9/21/2019)

    It’s Saturday and we fly home tomorrow.  This past week has pretty much flown by as most vacations do.  And that in itself is perhaps the wrong term.  A ‘vacation’ is usually a term used in the context of a break from work.  For us, that’s not so much the case.  It has really been a chance to return to a place that we have not really paid a visit to in over 40 years.  And we’ve been able to do it in a much more relaxed state.

    Leaving Sunday morning gives those same feelings that always materialize on ‘the last day’.  A thirst to go back home plus the craving to stay are almost like conjoined twins.  Mixed emotions fight internally, yet the home-front yearning always wins.

    The original plan was to drop by Kendall Jackson then cruise down the highway to swing by Heitz Cellars.  But the reality of the time to do so and still keep our (now extended) return time for the car simply wasn’t going to work.  So, Kendall won out.

    A long time ago the Grand Reserve Merlot from KJ was favorably discovered by my nose and palate.  It’s never been forgotten but it is so rarely available at home that opportunities for enjoyment are slim and very far between.  It just seemed apropos to make an appearance at the home of that most delightful beverage.  It did not disappoint.

    The entrance and the surrounding grounds are stellar and immaculately kept.  The tasting room large, well staffed and replete with not only their wine but requisite souvenirs that beckon all that frequent.  Our tasting host, Chris, provided not only good pours of the wines but displayed a full and proper knowledge of just WHAT he was pouring.  While sharing with him our story of why we were here, and how long it’s been since our first visit to the SF area, he felt it would be proper to do his own sharing.  He very willingly offered to extend us an additional pour of something not on the list, but of a more refined selection.  It would have been very rude indeed to decline. 🙂  As it turns out, that 2017 Jackson Estate Camelot Highlands Chardonnay found its way into our car to join our flight home tomorrow.

    Our next stop (now NOT at Heitz Cellars) was the Petaluma Premium Outlet Mall.  Save your time should you have the opportunity.  There was no joy for us.  As a for instance….Tommy Hilfiger had a huge number of items outside the store on sale at various reduction levels.  I found a very nice shirt that was marked 70% off and the marked price was $60 USD.  Ok…that should work out to about $18.  Good Deal!  No, no no…the $60 already was the marked down price.  REALLY?  Somehow they feel they can justify a short sleeve shirt for $200 simply because it has that brand name on it.  Even when I DO win the lottery that just makes No Sense.

    Out of there in a hurry and on to our hotel to drop off the luggage then on to Costco to fill up the car before its return.  And might I add, at a price that was 90 cents a gallon cheaper than I had paid previously at a different store a few days before.  Even more luck, the Costco gas station was minutes away from the Hertz drop off which was also minutes away from our hotel.  That all worked out well.

    A street-car was now on the menu for a trip to Pier 39, the heart of the wharf area of SF.  Again, decades since we have wandered about down here.  The hustle and bustle has become more intense, traffic around the immediate area is nuts, and the sheer volume of everything has been turned up many notches.  More and more of this and that.  Some constants exist though.  Ghirardelli chocolate is still easily available and just as fabulous (and non-caloric! 😉  )  Food is as plentiful and certainly some choices remain outstanding.  And, of course, the Harbour Seals still laze around, taking in the sun.  Continuity is a good thing.

    Now sufficiently fed (probably good til Tuesday) we Uber back to the hotel.  We asked a readily available cab driver for an approximate price and he quoted about $50.  Uber cost us $28.  ‘Nuff said.

    We had checked our luggage, as mentioned, because we really were too early for our room, and we knew that.  Fortunately they were happy to set our stuff aside in a locked room (with many others) to await our return.  As we checked in at the reception area, the wonderful lady behind the counter felt sorry for us because our room wasn’t ready when we arrived.  Before I could explain it was simply due to our own early arrival, she said she would upgrade us to a suite because of the inconvenience.  How could I disappoint her by turning her down?  This trip has truly been one of many surprises, almost all of which extraordinarily good.

    Think we can get a free upgrade on the flight tomorrow???  (HIGHLY unlikely – it’s Air Canada)

    This will be the last post for this journey.  I hope everyone that has dropped by got a kick out of our exploits and will return when the next adventure begins.  BTW…I will post more pics in the next day or 2.  The other thing I manged to forget to pack was the proper cable to download pictures from the cameras to the laptop.  YES there will be better accouterments management next time.

    Dasvidaniya (now THERE’S a hint…)

  • A Delectable Wine Tour (9/20/2019)

    Friday begins pretty much exactly like Thursday…clear skies above and all around warmed by a golden orb we haven’t seen very often back home this year.  Another light breakfast, coffee and OJ, back to the room to get cameras etc and we settle in to wait for our ride.

    Yes…our ride.  A wine tour loses a lot of its desired appeal for someone that can’t drink due to driving restrictions.  Those are in place for numerous good reasons and no arguments here.  But TODAY there will be no driving…at least not by yours truly.  Prior to leaving home, I contacted Platypus Tours and arranged for the both of us to go on one of their selected visitations.

    Thursday was spent stopping at a number of wineries that we were familiar with either because their wine was currently resting in our cellar or the local liquor store carries some of their products.  Saturday will be another 2 of those.  Today, though, will highlight 4 that are very local to the region with names totally unknown.

    Our tour guide, Kelly, did more than expected with respect to making the day one to not only remember, but be happy to do again (albeit to different wineries – further investigation is certainly required!).

    Travelling around in a very comfortable van, not having to drive, on a perfect day (from a weather perspective), doing what we came to do (taste wine!), sounds like it should be as good as it could be.

    Be that as it may there is always the potential for a ‘but’.  As mentioned this was booked some time ago and it would be impossible to control who our travelling companions would be.  Once again our luck held.  Brook (from Sonoma county), her friend Deena (from Chicago), Amanda and her husband Brett (from Atlanta), were all splendid accomplices to this guilty pleasure.

    Kelly first took us through a little town called Healdsburg.  It has a local reputation of being a little hoity-toity and has been referred to (upon occasion) as Beverly Healdsburg.  There was no stopover for us today so I cannot say from first-hand experience.  But I will say that the drive through was visually enjoyable.

    Wineries visited were assuredly ones unrecognized by us.  The first was De La Montanya.  The grapes are being harvested, that process having been started last month in some areas.  Here there were a number of rows of Zinfandel grapes hanging from the vine waiting for their pickers.  Allowances were made to enjoy one (or two) from the vine, just being careful when picking.  The grapes hung as if the bunches had been purposefully created to represent what the mind’s eye had only imagined.  As impeccable as they were to look at, the explosion of sweet flavor was really the only proper final touch.  No disappointment there.

    A pouring of 1 white, 1 rose’, and 5 reds, if I’m being totally honest, did not meet my own hopes for the wines.  They ranged in price from $30 to $60 USD, which in Alberta would be pushing $100 at the top end.  I understand the rationale.  They are an estate winery growing almost all their own grapes.  They are bonded for 10,000 cases which doesn’t really allow for international inclusion as there is simply not enough to go around.  Having said all that, I am confident their wine will grow in complexity and provide better and better results over time.

    Our next stop was Mill Creek.  They, too, are a small estate winery in business since 1969.  It is now being operated by the 2nd and 3rd generations with the 4th happily running around the vineyards filling her little bucket.  They produce about 6,000 cases per year.

    They poured us 4 whites and 2 reds ranging in price from $25 (for the estate Gewurztraminer which we bought) up to $70 (which we enjoyed over lunch graciously spread out for us by our Fabulous guide, Kelly).  Again, from a personal perspective only, these were far more enjoyable.

    Harvest Moon now welcomed us for our next tasting.  Pourings of 1 white, 6 reds, 1 late harvest Zin and 1 estate ice-wine style Gewurtz.  These ranged from $22 to $42.  There were 2, I thought, worthy of specific note.  The first was named Verdelho which was blended with some very fine Portuguese grapes by the same name.  The second (which was another that made our ‘purchased’ list) was the estate ice-wine style Gewurtz.  VERY yummy indeed (and Yes, that IS the technical term).

    Vizlay vineyards was our last stop of the day.  Again a smaller estate winery, family run, complete with a 5 bedroom guest house they rent out.  A pouring of 1 white and 4 reds completed our day of tasting.

    Was the day well spent?  Absolutely.  Would we do it again?  In a heartbeat. Do yourSELF a favor and visit California Wine Country.  A wine tour is, without doubt, the way to do it and I happen to know a very reputable company.  😉  Hopefully your group will be as fun and entertaining as ours.

  • Top Down And Wind In The Hair (9/19/2019)

    Thursday…up at the crack of dawn and off we go.  Ok…maybe dawn has broken some time ago and I’m taking journalistic license.  Sue me.  🙂

    Dressed and out for a quick breakfast as provided by the hotel and it’s finally time to change the car’s appearance.  Now there is nothing hindering proper, nothing broken, automatic, roof retraction.  First the one-button press to drop all the windows (including the little side vent type I didn’t even realize were there).  Then a press of another button and the magic begins.  This is very cool indeed.

    In the early 70’s I had my one and only experience in a convertible.  And I wasn’t driving but sitting in the back seat. It was a formidable muscle car of those years, a Pontiac Bonneville with a very large engine.

    This Mercedes is Much shorter and probably doesn’t have a roof line much higher than the Bonneville’s hood.  AND a significantly smaller engine.  Pretty sure I could beat that Bonneville now though.  This car is faster than any I have had the pleasure of driving.  From a standing start or from pretty much any speed after that.  Very impressive indeed.  Not like a Ferrari or a Lambo (let’s be serious here) but beyond normal requirements by a large margin.

    Driving all day with the top down, the sun very much up and the wind making a mess of the hair, was the most delightful experience.  Not without some drawbacks however, noise being the most noticeable.  Carrying on a conversation above 50 mph was pretty much using your vocal chords for nothing.  Another annoyance was the sun-visors did nothing when the sun was just above the roof line and in your eyeballs.  They don’t tilt upwards.  Getting out of the car was markedly improved however.  No roof to bang your head against (it’s really quite low).  In addition, let’s be honest…driving a Mercedes convertible in the California sun is simply life as it should be.  Home, with a wonderful summer of approximately 5.5 days, just doesn’t provide enough time to enjoy.

    One rather interesting tidbit.  The owners manual says the convertible roof should not be operated in temperatures less than 5 F.  That’s -15 C back home.  Who, in their RIGHT MIND, would even Consider driving with the roof Down at -15 C?  I wouldn’t even take that car out of the heated garage at that temperature.

    A few winery stops were made today because, as mentioned before, it’s all about the wine.  The driver (me) behaved himself, albeit a little grudgingly.  It’s harvest season so the vines were still mostly full (although picking was happening) and some other grapes were becoming more like raisins.  On purpose I suspect.  Wines not easily (if at all) available back home were tried, the majority being of sound body and ranking quite high on the enjoyability profile.  One was purchased and will likely…evaporate…before the flight home.  After all, tomorrow is a totally different wine tasting day that should bring nothing but uncommon juice of the grape.  And 4 of those should find their way back home.

    Finished the day a short distance from our hotel at a positively excellent Japanese restaurant.  Crab Sunomono salad (pickled cucumber, seaweed and crab), Cruncy Calamari Salad (mango, very lightly Tempura coated Calamari, Arugula), Jalapeno Bomb (deep fried Jalapeno, cream cheese, spicy tuna and tobiko), Shrimp Sumai (steamed shrimp dumpling). All paired with a terrific Daiginjo Sake.

    Perfect end to a beautiful day.

  • A Much Better Day (9/19/2019)

    It’s now Wednesday and having woke from a fairly good sleep, the day brightened our window with nothing but sunshine.  Right behind our hotel was an excellent home cookin’ restaurant which helped shape a most satisfying start to our drive north.

    Looking forward to dropping the top on this new mode of transportation, disappointment soon reared its ugly head.  Our big suitcase would actually fit with room to spare.  However, given there is NO back seat area at all, the small suitcase and my laptop bag would have to also go in the trunk.  The laptop alone would still have been a good fit.  The small suitcase would only go in one way…on its side.  No matter what configuration was tried, everything would fit, but there would be insufficient clearance for the top to go down.  Bummer!

    Ok…that problem won’t go away until tomorrow so on the road we go.  The goal is our next hotel, north of San Francisco in an area called Rohnert Park, CA.  San Fran is about 4.5 hours and then another better part of an hour past that.  With an almost 6 hour trip in front, but no real rush either, we set out on Highway 1 to take in a more scenic, rather than direct, route.  It’s just past 9 AM.

    There were photo ops aplenty along the way, one allowing for a very impressive viewing of a colony of elephant seals.  Apparently it was ‘lay down in the sand and cover ourselves with it’ time rather than ‘gambol about in the water’ time.  A few did, but most just lazed around, taking full advantage of being permanently unemployed.

    Driving along the coastline also gave us the more enhanced experience of driving in California in general.  Leaving L.A. central was what we had expected, more or less.  Yes it was rush hour but there were tens of thousands more commuters heading back Into L.A. than actually leaving.  So, while our 8 lanes of traffic were moving, the sea of vehicles on the other side of the median was crawling much like my granddaughter not that long ago.

    One would think the coastline drive (well out of LA. and area) would be somewhat better.  Not so much.  The sight-lines were absolutely improved.  The ocean views, changes of foliage and the general bouquet in the air (I love the smell of the ocean) all provided some relief from the road conditions. Those didn’t do that tour any justice.  It’s hard to understand why the roads are so badly pockmarked.  Not potholes, like back home, but for major rural roads, they left a lot to be desired.

    When on a divided highway in California the speed limit is (mostly) 65 mph (about 104 kph for us Canucks).  If not divided, then 55 mph (88 kph) is the limit.  Aside from going through towns, what else might affect this?  Yep…that wonderful season known as road-construction season!  Now it becomes 45 mph (72 kph) and more often than we wanted, also down to one lane.  Which meant stop…wait (In Line Again!!)…then go when permitted by workers.  And there are many spots where 45 mph is a luxury.

    BUT…we’re not in a rush, right?  Here to enjoy, not to hurry.

    Another sideline that I wanted to make was in Carmel CA that offered the famed 17 Mile Drive.  I had done this once before, in 1992, and ‘had a yen to see it again’.  (Yes…my new career shall be…POET!  no…I’m kidding.)  Back in those olden days I remember a lot of green grass and some of the most spectacular homes I have ever seen.  Plenty had that magnificent view of the ocean that one can only get by living with it right out your front door.  Too much can change in 27 years.

    Those homes are still there, but it now costs $10.50 USD, to take that drive. I guess Someone has to help pay for the surroundings. After all, the people that live there have all those OTHER costs. You know…the golf cart upkeep, the club memberships, thier landscapers (after all their yards don’t take care of themselves!), the pool guy…it’s Tough living here.

    As the drive meanders around, it’s blatantly obvious that there are a multitude more homes here than so long ago.  A stop at Spyglass Golf Course and Poppy Hills Golf Course because my golf ball display at home still has a few holes to fill. 🙂  Again, more photo ops came about and at the very end of the drive was the famed Pebble Beach Golf Course.  This has also changed dramatically over the years.

    Where once there was, of course, the amazing golf course itself and a merchandise shop or two, there is now an entire community.  A shopping center type mall, a visitor center showing the resort’s amenities, a row of stores dedicated to golfing attire and mementos.  The list goes on.  Say what I will, however, it remains an exceptional place to take in.  In 1992 golf fees were $200 USD if you did NOT live on 17 mile drive.  It is now $550 USD.

    Still waiting for that lottery win…

    On we continue to our hotel.  I guess we’re luckier this time.  We got there by about 8 PM.  WHY?  It was Only about a 5.5 hour drive and yes we made a number of stops.  But the reason on Top of construction was the always present ‘let’s slow down for no apparent reason, clog traffic, then move on’ syndrome.  There is no doubt that this affliction exists in other first world countries, but it’s just seems so much more noteworthy on an 8-lane each way divided highway.  And it doesn’t disappear just because you’re on a one-lane each way out of the way secondary road.

    Into the room, unload, and go find a restaurant for a little bite before bed.  Tomorrow WILL BE a top-down day.

  • An Eventful Day (9/18/2019)

    Our last day on the ship should have been relatively uneventful.  We knew we were going to be even later than we thought (arriving at around 2 PM instead of our original 6 AM, which was later adjusted to noon).  As we had cleared US Customs in Vancouver before we even got on board, getting off should have been very easy.

    The first challenge was actually getting off the ship.  The staff had categorized everyone that was leaving into varying groups depending on urgency and whether one was walking off with luggage in tow (us) or having their luggage moved for them from their room to a waiting area off the ship.  Those who were walking off were able to do so first.  Great, except we were certainly not alone.  Not even part of a small select group.  Nope, a few hundred was likely a more accurate head-count.  Ok…better than the couple of thousand doing it the other way.

    It really didn’t take all that long.  Probably about 20 minutes by the time we were physically off the ship.  I can handle that.  We had (once again) called Hertz (our rental car agency) to warn of our delay.  They assured us a car would be available.

    Off the ship, through the port building, out the door, across the street to wait for a cab to take us to Hertz.  This now becomes the next challenge.  We got our name on a list (as there were only a few hundred people waiting), and sort of close to the top.  I think we were about 40th.  However…the guy making the list advised us that, at one point, there were about 34 cabs waiting for the ship.  Because it was so delayed, they all left.  Now we have to wait for return visits.  Oh Joy, Oh Joy.  When they finally started to show there were, at best, only 2 at a time.  About an hour after we got off the ship we made it to Hertz.  Can this day get any worse?

    CERTAINLY!  When we got in another line at Hertz I was amazingly in 5th spot.  I had rented a smallish car (along the Ford Focus line) as it was sizable enough and not overly expensive.  Now, my Only choice was a Suburban!  That thing is bigger than my Venza was!  In L.A. traffic, and now being forced to drive (4 hours), in darkness for the last half of the trip, and it being careless about using gas.  This was NOT an acceptable choice.  Why was there no other selection?  Well, as it turns out, the multitude of cars that were supposed to be delivered that morning to their office, didn’t show up.  Now we’re all waiting for some to be returned.  At this point there are more people behind me than when I first got here.

    I informed the attendant that I just couldn’t take the Suburban…it was simply way too big.  Ok…no problem, you can wait for something else (once again going on a list – now I’m 6th cuz others in front of me didn’t want it either. Is there a pattern here??).  A little while later I was again offered the Suburban…no thank you.  Then a full-size mini-van came up…no thank you, I will wait.

    Now we have been here for an hour.  He once more calls me up and asks me to sit down as he has something for me.  GREAT.  We get all the paper work done, and he asks me to follow him so he can show me where the elevator is to the 6th floor of the parking garage.  This is where I’ll get my car.  Ok…by the way, what kind of car is it?  “Please follow me” he says. “I don’t want to say it out loud in the office” he sort of whispers.  As we head to the elevator he hands me the Key Fob. While walking I turn it over.  Hmmmm…isn’t this interesting.  I said to him “I understand now”.

    I shake his hand, thanking him profusely.  He tells me I’m very welcome and sometimes its worth it to be patient.

    So…for my original cost of the Ford Focus with NO additional upcharge, my dear wife and I try to figure out how we’re going to fit our luggage in the trunk of a 2019 Mercedes SLC 300 (hardtop convertible!).  Surprisingly both suitcases fit but with zero room to spare.  Tomorrow we’ll try dropping the roof (which slides under the trunk lid).  Apparently it is supposed to work as long as the trunk is not filled past a certain point.  We’ll be close, I’m sure.  Yes there will be pictures…tomorrow.

    After an almost 5 hour drive (not including a quick stop at a Wonderful Italian restaurant in Santa Barbara) we show up at our hotel.  As with Hertz, we had phoned ahead to inform them of our much-later arrival.  No problem, if we’re past 10 PM the key will be under the mat right in front of the office door.

    What will make this day complete?  You guessed it…No Key when we arrived (around 10:30 PM).  But, it turns out to be not a major issue.  We called the office (that we’re standing right outside of and could see there was no-one there), and the manager answered.  He let us in saying he didn’t leave the key as he was going to be up for a while.

    Now up in the room (Finally) and unpacked just enough to make take-off tomorrow easier.  The bed is not nearly as nice as the one on the ship, but it is calling my name.

    I have to listen.  Goodnight everyone…more to follow after (we hope) a much more enjoyable day tomorrow.

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